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Pat Metheny: Driving Forces

Ian Patterson By

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Sánchez, in an interview with All About Jazz around the time of the birth of Unity Band, highlighted Metheny's ability to weave the complex and the simple together. For Metheny, finding bandmates who are on the same page is not a simple matter. "The truth is, it is pretty easy for me to find folks who can play really complicated," says Metheny," but it is very, very difficult for me to find people who can play really simple and make every note count. Finding folks who can do both is almost impossible for me. Antonio is one."

Gwilym Simcock is another. Described nearly a decade ago by Chick Corea as "a creative genius," Simcock made his name in Bill Bruford's Earthworks, Tim Garland's Lighthouse Trio and Malcom Creese's Acoustic Triangle. His star has risen ever since. His own records as leader, notably his second album Blues Vignette (Basho, 2009), a beautiful meeting of jazz and classical idioms, singled him out as a highly accomplished composer and performer with a broad, inclusive vocabulary. In the early days Simcock was frequently compared favorably to Brad Mehldau and Keith Jarrett, so it's perhaps not surprising that the pianist should eventually come to Metheny's attention. Metheny, after all, knows a thing or two about playing with pianists.

Over the years Metheny has played with piano legends such as Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, McCoy Tyner and Joey Calderazzo, although his most significant partnerships have been with Lyle Mays—for three decades in the Pat Metheny Group—and with Brad Mehldau, with whom Metheny recorded a couple of albums, also touring extensively. Simcock, like Mays and Mehldau, is another pianist that connects on a deep level with Metheny. "I do think that Brad, Lyle and Gwilym have something in common in that they all bring a degree of understanding about the guitar as an instrument and what it does," says Metheny, "and that they can address that from an almost orchestral point of view at the piano. It is different from a saxophone."

Rounding out Metheny's band is the extraordinary bassist Linda May Han Oh. Malaysian-born, raised in Australia and New-York based, Oh made a splash with her debut as leader, Entry (Self-Produced, 2011) and has gone on to release several more critically acclaimed recordings under her own name, including Walk Against Wind (Biophilia Records, 2017), inspired in part by mime great Marcel Marceau. Oh had performed with heavyweights like Joe Lovano, Kenny Barron and Geri Allen and her playing made an instant impression on Metheny.

"When I was planning this round of touring I thought of Linda," Metheny explains. "She, Antonio and I got together and it was instantly a great fit. Over the past couple of years I have seen her get even better. She is a force and is already making a serious contribution to the scene. I love playing with her."

Besides the touring, Metheny has been busy putting together his own Real Book -a collection of one hundred and forty seven of his most played tunes. Perhaps one of the most telling—and no doubt gratifying—signs of Metheny's importance as an influential figure of contemporary music, however, has been the inclusion of his music on Berklee College of Music's credited courses. "Gratifying is the right word," says Metheny. "It is a bit of a surprise to me that so many of the tunes have had lives outside of their original context."

It's a reality that dawned on Metheny when he was compiling the songs for his Real Book. "I found myself realizing that those notes on the page will wind up having as much or more of a lasting place in things than the recordings, or the gigs, or the films. The basic arguments laid out in those pieces, even the really early ones from Bright Size Life (ECM, 1976) and around then still seem viable to me."

Still viable, still incredibly dedicated to his craft and still hugely popular around the world -some things about Metheny never change. Whether this current band will go into the studio to record remains to be seen. So too, the direction that Metheny decides to take next. He may be at something of a crossroads in terms of choosing his main vehicle going forward, though he might just as easily decide to rotate his principal bands—a solution that would please many.

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